Restorative Justice Proposals as a result of Two-Year Study at University of Notre Dame; SNAP Responds

(For Immediate Release November 28, 2022) 

A group composed of scholars, psychologists, clergy, restorative justice experts, and survivors of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal has apparently developed a set of proposals that encourage the use of restorative justice as a means to help heal victims and the broader Church. SNAP believes that the proposals will no doubt please the hierarchy because they do nothing to address the bishops' continuing penchant for secrecy or the other systemic problems that fueled the scandal. The survivors' group insists that complete truth and transparency must come before "restorative justice" can ever be considered.

According to the announcement, the proposals are the result of a two-year study supported by an initiative created by the University of Notre Dame’s Office of the President as part of the Notre Dame Forum. The proposals have been forwarded for consideration to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Notre Dame political science professor Daniel Philpott, who participated in the study, noted that survivors had specific needs for “healing and wholeness.” For a research university that prides itself on being a "force for good in the world," these proposals demonstrated to us how divorced scholars are from the reality and long-term effects of clergy sexual abuse. Apologies, prayer and penance, and a healing garden are emotional appeals. They are not directed at the actual needs of survivors; they are a salve for the churchgoers who continue to fund what to us is nothing less than a criminal organization.

We have seen dioceses throughout the world hold special masses of "reparation." In 2014, then Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput held a healing mass for victims of abuse where knitted potholders were handed out as gifts to attendees, while survivors and advocates stood outside the Cathedral in protest. In 2019, Archbishop Blair of Hartford, Connecticut laid himself prostrate on the altar to symbolize repentance.   How did that help those who can no longer stand the smell of a candle?

It would be a breath of fresh air if instead, we saw the US Conference of Catholic Bishops establish a national database of accused clergy, including those from religious orders, brothers, nuns, lay employees, and volunteers, as well as publish the outcome of Vos Estis investigations. That would truly demonstrate responsibility and accountability! Survivors carry feelings of self-blame that can never be erased by prayer or even compensation, and most will take that to their final resting place. Having the Church show responsibility and accountability would help to ease that burden.

In addition, the Church’s hierarchy must stop funneling money to lobbyists to oppose window legislation that would allow time-barred victims their day in court. Dioceses also too often claim bankruptcy instead of clearing away the wreckage of the past. That also needs to end. Allow discovery to be exchanged and let every claim have its day in court.

From our perspective, restorative justice absolutely cannot happen without truth and transparency. Survivors deserve to know how an already-known abuser escaped justice with the help of Catholic officials and continued a career of sexual assaults. The players, dead or alive, abusers and enablers, need to be known. Restorative justice is seeing the full scale of harm done and what survivors need and want in reparation.

The proposals outlined by this group assembled by the University of Notre Dame come at a time when distrust of Catholic officials sits at a record high. We see it as a public relations move only since nothing in the two-year study does anything to truly help survivors. 

CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected] 267-261-0578) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President, (814-341-8386 [email protected])

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is

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